By Andreas Vou
APOEL said farewell to European football this season after their heavy Champions League defeat at the hands of Ajax on Wednesday night.
The Cypriot champions suffered a 4-0 loss against Frank de Boer’s men in a game which they had to win in order to reach the knockout phase of the Europa League.
APOEL held their own in the first 45 minutes but a penalty on the stroke of half-time would open the floodgates.
Giorgos Donis took some tactical risks knowing that only a win would be enough to seal qualification and the APOEL boss felt that, despite the heavy scoreline, the game took a natural path.
“I feel that what happened after the first goal was a natural consequence because we had to chase the win in a very difficult game. It was a little unjust on the effort that the players made in the first-half, where they played very well, in my opinion, with a new game plan.
“With the penalty incident, it ruined our psychology and, although we entered the second-half in a different way the two quick goals cost us and we gave up on the game and suffered a heavy defeat.”
Nevertheless, Donis was content with his side’s efforts throughout the competition and emphasised that the intention was now to maintain their position at the top of the domestic table in order to return to the Champions League next season.
“I want to thank the players for this wonderful effort, and also the fans who supported us both home and away. The team showed in this campaign, against some giants, that they deserved to be in the groups.
“I thank APOEL for giving me the opportunity to live something like this as a manager and from here on we must try to experience this next year as well.”
APOEL’s largest deficiency in the competition was in attack. The defence conceded just four goals in their first four games against some of world’s best strikers but their impotency up front saw the team unable to seize any chances on goal and subsequently reduced their likelihood of claiming a major scalp.
Cillian Sheridan, who started as the lone striker in all but one of APOEL’s six group games admitted that, although “the boys should be proud of their efforts,” he partly felt responsible for “not being clinical enough” in front of goal.
Ajax, meanwhile, are traditionally known as one of the biggest club sides in the world, having been crowned European champions on four occasions.
De Boer was keen to state that the team is not yet good enough to compete among Europe’s elite but believes that they are making forward steps.
“I think we can structurally belong to the European second tier, looking up,” said De Boer. “We are currently hanging out a bit between the middle and the second tier in Europe. All we saw against APOEL is that we have again made (positive) steps.”
Goalkeeper Urko Pardo, in a message to his fans on Twitter, felt that APOEL’s group rivals had to be taken into perspective when judging their overall campaign and reiterated the manager’s desire to win the league.
“This (Champions League) is the biggest club tournament in the world against Barça, Paris and Ajax. So we cannot be disappointed. Heads up and win the Championship,” said the Spaniard.